Is Cupping Therapy Right For You?

Cupping therapy is a technique from Traditional Chinese Medicine that is used to loosen up the fascia, a fibrous tissue that surrounds and protects many muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels throughout our bodies.  When fascia becomes tightened, it can cause pain, which can affect how we walk, work, exercise and even sleep. Cupping therapy, also called “myofascial decompression,” aims to release the tension that has developed in the fascia to decrease pain and increase function.

Traditionally, cupping therapy was performed with cups made out of bamboo, wood, glass or a ram’s horn; today, the cups are typically made out of silicone to provide more flexibility over various body parts. Dry cupping is performed by placing a cup on a body region and suctioning air out of the cup with a pump vacuum, drawing the skin into the cup.  The purpose of this technique is to relieve tension by increasing blood flow to the area, which increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to the tissue in order to heal.

Although there has been minimal research done on the effectiveness of cupping therapy, its potential benefits are supported by recent studies on conditions that are very common among Americans:

Low back pain: decreased pain, increased range of motion and pressure tolerance1

Carpal tunnel syndrome: decreased pain, increased function2

Knee osteoarthritis: decreased pain, increased function and quality of life ratings3

Each of these studies reported few adverse effects of the technique, with the most common being bruise-like markings in the areas of cup placement.

For more information on cupping therapy, ask your physical therapist or visit

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  1. Markowski A, Sanford S, Pikowski J, Fauvell D, Cimino D, Caplan S. A pilot study analyzing the effects of Chinese cupping as an adjunct treatment for patients with subacute low back pain on relieving pain, improving range of motion, and improving function. J Altern Complem Med. 2014;20(2):113-117. doi: 10.1089.acm.2012.0769
  2. Michalsen A, Bock S, Lüdtke R et al. Effects of traditional cupping therapy in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. J Pain. 2009;10(6):601-608. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2008.12.013
  3. Teut M, Kaiser S, Ortiz M et al. Pulsatile dry cupping in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee – a randomized controlled exploratory trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012;12:184.